Kingsport leaders discuss need for higher education center

Rick Wagner • Jan 24, 2007 at 11:51 AM

KINGSPORT - The idea to make a four-year college degree available in Kingsport has grabbed recent headlines, but it's about 60 years old.

Greeneville-based Tusculum College after World War II looked at putting a campus in the Model City but abandoned the idea, according to Kingsport attorney and former Tusculum board of directors Chairman D. Bruce Shine.

Tusculum today is one of the four-year institutions looking to participate in the proposed downtown higher education center spearheaded by Mayor Dennis Phillips and Kingsport Times-News Publisher Keith Wilson.

"The record showed the business community didn't support it," Shine said during a Wednesday small business breakfast meeting at Aladdin's Cuisine. "I just hope we get behind it and don't wait another 60 years."

Phillips told the group he'd like to see construction on the proposed center, to be operated by Northeast State Technical Community College, begin in early 2008. Potential sites include the Sullivan and Shelby streets parking lots, as well as one location each on Sullivan Street and the old Quebecor site.

The center would be operated by Northeast State, where students would take their first two years of courses, but it would offer four-year degrees through schools that could include the University of Tennessee, King College, Tusculum College, Emory & Henry College, Carson-Newman College and Tennessee Technological University.

Eastman Chemical Co., BAE Systems, Wellmont Health System, Indian Path Medical Center, Weyerhaeuser, Eastman Credit Union and AccuForce Staffing Services are among businesses that have issued letters of support for the center.

The proposal will go before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen no later than early March, the mayor said.

Phillips after the meeting said aside from private money and grants, a likely funding source is a continuation of the quarter-cent sales tax increase implemented to fund the MeadowView Conference, Resort and Convention Center.

Greg Neal, vice president of education for the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, told about 50 business leaders at the Kingsport Office of Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship A.M. Newshour that the center is needed to boost college education rates and for continuing education.

In 2005 in the United States, 84.2 percent of adults had a high school degree or more and 27.2 percent had a bachelor's degree or more, Neal said. In contrast, Tennessee residents were at 81 percent and 22 percent, compared to 81 percent and 19 percent in Sullivan County and 70 percent and 10 percent in Hawkins County.

And a chamber survey found between 7,600 and 9,100 jobs need to be filled over the next 10 years - 1,050 new jobs and the rest replacement jobs. Of those, 230 need master's degrees, 1,450 need four-year degrees, 2,300 require technical degrees, and 4,000 require high school diplomas.

"Our goal is you will be able to get a four-year degree in Kingsport, Tennessee," Phillips said.

In answering audience questions, Wilson said the University of Virginia's College at Wise, which offers software engineering, could be included in the center.

"We've got more colleges calling us than we are calling them," Wilson said. "This is not Kingsport University."

Wilson also emphasized the proposal does not replicate the existing University Center East Tennessee State operates near Allandale in the Hawkins County portion of Kingsport.

That site does not offer classes for a complete four-year degree.

"ETSU was asked to participate and declined the offer," Wilson said. "That's fair enough."

Meanwhile, Phillips said a meeting with UT officials Tuesday in Knoxville went well, although UT has not yet signed a letter of intent to participate in the center.

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